Relay Graduate School of Education: A Policy Brief

Relay GSE

This year the Philadelphia School District used training videos on classroom management from The Relay Graduate School of Education as part of its New Teacher orientation. The principals of Blaine and Kelley Elementary Schoos (recent turnaround schools) are enrolled in Relay’s principal training program.

Relay Graduate School of Education is a teacher/principal training program based in New York and founded by people who had little experience or training in education.  The school has opened a Philadelphia/Camden branch and has a partnership with Mastery Charter in the Philadelphia region. Since it appears to be extending its reach inside the Philadelphia School District we felt the need to explore Relay’s history and influence.

Kate Peterson, a graduate student at Arcadia University, has looked into Relay’s founders and programs. Her findings are posted below. We want to thank Kate for her thorough research and for allowing us to post it.


Relay Graduate School of Education Policy Brief

by Kate Peterson
January 2, 2016

Relay Graduate School of Education is a stand-alone school based in New York City. It began as Teacher U in 2007, when Dave Levin, co-founder of KIPP Public Charter Schools, and Norman Atkins, co-founder of Uncommon Schools, decided to develop a program that would supply their charter schools and others with high-quality teachers, which they deemed as scarce. They partnered with the founder of Achievement First, Dacia Toll, to create their program. Receiving $10 million from Larry Robbins, founder of the hedge fund Glenview Capital Management and current board member of Relay, and $20 million from the non-profit The Robin Hood Foundation, the three charter school leaders partnered with Hunter College in New York to implement their program (Relay Graduate School of Education, 2015h; Barbic, 2013).

In 2011, it was renamed Relay Graduate School of Education and was granted a charter by the New York State Board of Regents (Relay Graduate School of Education, 2015h). Partnering with the New York City Department of Education, they began training district public school teachers. After its claimed success with this program, Relay spread to other major cities including New Orleans and Newark (Barbic, 2013). Today, in addition to these cities, Relay has branches in Chicago, Houston, Memphis, and more recently Delaware and Philadelphia/Camden (Relay Graduate School of Education, 2015a).

Norman Atkins is currently the president of Relay and has been associated with several charters. He received a B.A. in history from Brown University and a M.A. in educational administration from Columbia. He began his career as an independent journalist (Uncommon Schools, n.d.). From 1989 until 1994 he served as the co-executive director of The Robin Hood Foundation in New York City, a prominent donor to Relay as well as to numerous charters in New York City, including Uncommon Schools and KIPP (Uncommon Schools, n.d.; The Robin Hood Foundation, 2015). Then in 1997, he co-founded and co-led North Star Academy Charter of Newark. In 2005 he co-founded Uncommon Schools, a charter management organization that currently manages 44 charters. Atkins now serves as board chair for Uncommon (Uncommon Schools, n.d.). Additionally, along with Dave Levin, Atkins co-founded and is a board member for Zearn, a non-profit online math program designed for kindergarten to eighth grade based on the Common Core standards (Zearn, n.d.). Zearn also receives funding from The Robin Hood Foundation (The Robin Hood Foundation, 2015).

Dave Levin is currently a board member and teacher for Relay. After graduating from Yale in 1992, he joined Teach for America, teaching fifth-grade in Houston. In 1994, he co-founded KIPP. With the financial help of Gap, Inc., the KIPP Foundation was created in 1999, allowing KIPP to expand their network. Doris and Donald Fisher, the founders of Gap, Inc., have contributed over $80 million to KIPP and are listed as philanthropic investors of Relay (Levenick, 2010; Relay Graduate School of Education, 2015i). Levin currently serves on the board of directors for KIPP. He co-founded Character Lab, a non-profit whose aim is to create and provide resources to teachers that help students build character skills, and is now on its board (Character Lab, 2015; Zearn, n.d.). He also serves as a board member for Zearn (Zearn, n.d.).

Dacia Toll is the current co-CEO and President of Achievement First. She received her B.A. in politics and economics from the University of Carolina at Chapel Hill, her M.A. in philosophy, politics, and economics from the University of Oxford, and her J.D. and teaching certification from Yale University (Dacia Toll, n.d.). In 1998, just after she graduated from Yale, Toll helped found Amistad Academy in New Haven, Connecticut and served as the school’s director until 2005. In 2003, she co-founded Achievement First, building a network of charters like that of Amistad Academy (Achievement First, 2015). Toll currently serves as a board member for Relay and 50CAN, a non-profit that works at the local level to support high-quality education for all children (Achievement First, 2015; 50CAN, 2015).

Based on their backgrounds, it is apparent that all three charter and Relay founders have little education and training in teaching. Atkins opened a charter a year after graduating with a M.A. in educational leadership with little to no experience teaching. Levin founded KIPP two years after working for Teach for America with no formal education in teaching as well. Toll too founded a charter a year after graduating with her J.D. and teaching certificate with very little experience in education. After founding these charters, they did not go on to be teachers in them, but rather managers of them. Thus, Relay’s founders began a teacher training program without much formal education and experience in teaching themselves.

While all three of Relay’s co-founders appear to be powerful people within the public education sphere, Atkins’ and Levin’s influence in Newark seems to be greater than the network of charters (Uncommon’s North Star Academy Charters and KIPP) they help found there. As outlined on Newark Public School’s website, according to its contract with Newark Teachers Union, district teachers can only receive raises for completing advanced degrees if they complete it through Relay. Although two other institutions submitted a proposal, Relay was deemed as the only institution that met the requirements established by a group of teachers, school and district administrators, and higher education representatives. The district will call for other proposals in the future, but for now, only teachers who choose to attend an organization that is unaffiliated with a college or university, that was created to supply charters with teachers trained to meet the needs of these specific charters, and that is based on the beliefs of teaching amateurs will receive raises (Newark Public Schools, n.d.).

The recently opened Philadelphia/Camden branch is currently run by Shemanne Davis. She received her B.A. in history and women’s studies and her M.A.T. from Emory University. Davis worked at Stephenson Middle School in Dekalb County, Georgia, becoming a special education liaison for the district. Davis later received her J.D. from the University of Georgia and then worked for the Georgia Legal Services Special Education Program, advocating for proper services and placement for special needs students. Davis was also an Education Pioneers fellow, a non-profit that helps leaders find pathways into educational leadership, solving problems outside of the classroom. As a fellow, her research for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Education resulted in the endorsement of Common Core by the Massachusetts’ Secretary of Education. In 2011, Davis became the Dean of Students at Bedford Stuyvesant Collegiate Charter School. She was dean for three years until she began teaching for Relay Newark and became dean of the Philadelphia/Camden campus (K-12 Symposium, n.d.).

There are two programs available for Philadelphia teachers through Relay: graduate alternate route certification and teacher residency. The graduate alternate route certification is a one-year program for full-time teachers in one of Relay’s partner schools, which for Philadelphia is only Mastery, who want to be certified in PA (Relay Graduate School of Education, 2015f). The teacher residency program is a two-year program open only to those who receive an official offer for residency from Mastery Charter Schools or Camden Prep. During the first year, students work full-time in a classroom under the supervision of a mentor and attend weekly practice classes in which they practice various teaching skills for three hours. In the second year, they teach full-time (Relay Graduate School of Education, 2015g). Because their candidates for these programs are already teachers, that means they are non-certified teachers. Thus, these candidates must be coming from Teach for America, a Relay partner, as they have to be affiliated with Mastery Charter Schools, Uncommon’s Camden Prep, or Camden City Schools, all of which require certification. Fortunately, Relay is not yet approved to offer Master’s degrees in Pennsylvania (Relay Graduate School of Education, 2015g).

In addition to Davis, who does teaching herself, there are several other professors who teach at Relay’s Philadelphia/Camden campus. Below is a list of instructors and directors at this campus and their education and associations. However, because this campus is fairly new, information for this campus is limited, making this list incomplete.

Teacher Position at Relay Education Associations
Samuel Biddle Adjunct Instructor in Elementary Education B.A. in Political Science; M.S. in Elementary Education and Teaching 2nd grade teacher at Frederick Douglass Charter (Mastery Charter Schools); Lead corps member advisor for Teach for America; Former teacher at Scholars Academy (Samuel Biddle, n.d.)
Justin Harper Director of Operations B.A. in Public Policy; MBA; M.S. in Clinical Psychology Former director of operations at Simon Gratz Mastery Charter (Justin Harper, n.d.)
Nadia Bennett Adjunct Professor B.A. in Business Management; M.Ed. in Education Administration and Policy Principal at Simon Gratz Mastery Charter; Former teacher at Maya Angelou Public Charter Alternative School (Nadia Bennet, n.d.)
Zach Blattner Assistant Professor of Practice B. A. in English Literature; MPA; Principal certification from Relay’s National Principals Academy Fellowship

Former Assistant Principal of Instruction at Hardy William’s High Mastery Charter; Former TFA member (Zach Blattner, n.d.; K-12 Symposium, n.d.)

Several principals within the Philadelphia area have also been associated with Relay through their National Principals Academy Fellowship (NPAF) and Leverage Leadership Institute Fellowship (LLI). NPAF is a one-year program for current school principals. In order to participate in the program, applicants must be selected by one of Relay’s partner organizations. Fellows attend a two-week summer session and four weekend sessions during the year, which are run by Uncommon School’s Paul Bambrick-Santoyo, Julie Jackson, and Doug Lemov as well as KIPP’s Dave Levin (Relay Graduate School of Education, 2015e). LLI is only open to principals in the top 10% of schools within a district or state. Unlike NPAF, applicants do not have to be nominated. It is a one-year program also run by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo and has only been in operation since 2014 (Relay Graduate School of Education, 2015c). Below is a list of Philadelphia area principals who have attended either program including their education and associations. Again, due to limited available information, this list is also incomplete.

Name of Participant Program Education Associations
Chanel Ward NPAF 2014-2015 B.A. in Women’s Studies; M.S. in Elementary Education and Teaching; Principal certification, NPAF Assistant Principal of Instruction at Thomas Elementary (Mastery Charter Schools); Former teacher, teacher’s coach, and testing coordinator for Scholar Academies; Former Teach for America Corps member (Chanel Ward, n.d.)
Emily Hergott NPAF 2014-2015 B.A. in History and German; M.S. in General/Special Education 1-6; Principal certification, NPAF Assistant Principal of Instruction at Thomas Elementary (Mastery Charter Schools); Former Teach for America Corps member (Emily Hergott, n.d.)
Melinda Shorday NPAF (date unknown) B.A. in English/ Communications;

M.Ed. in Special Education; Principal Certification, NPAF

Director of Specialized Services for Mastery Charter Schools; Former Assistant Principal of Specialized Services and Special Education Coordinator for Mastery’s Clymer Elementary; Former Philadelphia Teaching Fellow (Melinda Shorday, n.d.)
Gianeen Powell NPAF 2014-2015 B.A in Elementary Education; M.Ed. in Educational Leadership and Administration (Gianeen Powell, n.d.) Principal at James G. Blaine Elementary (SDP) (Shapelavy, 2014)
Amelia Coleman-Brown NPAF 2014-2015 Education not found Principal at William D. Kelley School (SDP); Former principal at Widener Partnership Charter (Shapelavy, 2014)
Tom Weishaupt LLI 2014-2015, 2015-2016* Education not found Principal at Frederick Douglass (Mastery Charter Schools); Former Principal at Mastery’s Grover Cleveland; Former teacher for Achievement First and KIPP (Relay Graduate School of Education, 2015d)
Michelle Allen LLI 2014-2015 Education not found Assistant Principal of Instruction at Mann Elementary (Mastery Charter Schools); Founding cohort member of NPAF (Relay Graduate School of Education, 2015d)
Natalie Catin-St. Louis LLI 2015-2016 B.A. in Urban Education; M.A. in Elementary Education; M.A. in Educational Leadership and Administration (Natalie Catin-St. Louis, n.d.) Principal of Grover Cleveland Elementary (Mastery Charter Schools); Former Instructional Reform Facilitator for SDP (Relay Graduate School of Education, 2015b)

*Weishaupt is listed on Relay’s site as a member of both the 2014-2015 cohort and the 2015-2016 cohort

It is apparent that Relay overwhelmingly supports charters. According to available information, the professors and directors of Relay’s Philadelphia/Camden campus are currently associated or have been associated with charters. Moreover, it appears from the available information that most individuals from Philadelphia schools who are in Relay’s NPAF and LLI programs, with the exception of Gianeen Powell and Amelia Coleman-Brown, are also associated with charters. Additionally, only 3 out of the 18 fellows for the 2014-2015 LLI cohort and 8 out of the 25 fellows for the 2015-2016 LLI cohort are currently associated with district schools. This means that only a quarter of LLI fellows thus far have current ties to district schools. The remaining fellows are currently associated with charters, private schools, Relay itself, or an educational non-profit (Relay Graduate School of Education, 2015b, 2015d). Thus, it seems Relay’s founders are profiting from an institution whose purpose is to educate individuals to meet the needs of their own companies.

Relay Graduate School of Education is an independent institution of higher education run by charter school supporters. From its founders, to its board members, to its professors, and to its partners and philanthropic investors, Relay oozes charter school support. It was created as a teacher supply source for charters and remains just that. With the school run by those associated with charters, it is likely that Relay’s students are being trained in ways similar to the ways teachers at Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First experience. Additionally, their website boasts partnerships with charters in multiple cities for their teacher residency program, including Noble Network of Charter Schools, KIPP, Achievement First, Uncommon Schools, and Mastery Charter Schools, further creating a specific supply of teachers for charters (Relay Graduate School of Education, 2015i). Moreover, although its students appear to be primarily associated with charters, those who attend Relay from district schools will be taught and will implement the unsupported ways and ideals that these relatively unexperienced education reformers have deemed important and successful. Relay is a growing and powerful force in the education world. It was no longer enough for these corporate education reformers to have an influence on the education of our children; they needed to have an influence on the education of our teachers as well. If more districts enact provisions like Newark Public Schools’, Relay will be allowed to dig their hands deeper into teacher education, expanding corporate education reform, creating charter-minded teachers, and becoming a force to be reckoned with.


50CAN. (2015). Mission & Vision. Retrieved from

Achievement First. (2015). Achievement First Leadership Team. Retrieved from

Barbic, K. (2013). Mediocrity be gone. Philanthropy. Retrieved from

Character Lab. (2015). What we do. Retrieved from

Chanel Ward. (n.d.). LinkedIn [Profile page]. Retrieved from

Dacia Toll. (n.d.). LinkedIn [Profile page]. Retrieved from

Emily Hergott. (n.d.). LinkedIn [Profile page]. Retrieved from

Gianeen Powell. (n.d.). LinkedIn [Profile page]. Retrieved from

Justin Harper. (n.d.). LinkedIn [Profile page]. Retrieved from

K-12 Symposium. (n.d.). Presenters. Retrieved from

Levernick, C. (2010). Closing the gap. Philanthropy. Retrieved from

Melinda Shorday. (n.d.). LinkedIn [Profile page]. Retrieved from

Nadia Bennett. (n.d.). LinkedIn [Profile page]. Retrieved from

Natalie Catin-St. Louis. (n.d.). LinkedIn [Profile page]. Retrieved from

Newark Public Schools. (n.d.). Teacher contract information. Retrieved from

Relay Graduate School of Education. (2015a). Campuses. Retrieved from

Relay Graduate School of Education. (2015b). Leverage leadership cohort announced. Retrieved from

Relay Graduate School of Education. (2015c). Leverage leadership institute fellowship. Retrieved from

Relay Graduate School of Education. (2015d). Leverage leadership institute fellows. Retrieved from

Relay Graduate School of Education. (2015e). National principals academy fellowship. Retrieved from

Relay Graduate School of Education. (2015f). Philadelphia & Camden graduate alternate route certification. Retrieved from

Relay Graduate School of Education. (2015g). Philadelphia & Camden teaching residency. Retrieved from

Relay Graduate School of Education. (2015h). Our institution. Retrieved from

Relay Graduate School of Education. (2015i). Our partners. Retrieved from

Samuel Biddle. (n.d.). LinkedIn [Profile page]. Retrieved from

Shepelavey, R. P. (2014, December 23). Wonder woman to the principal’s office. The Philadelphia Citizen. Retrieved from

The Robin Hood Foundation. (2015). Education. Retrieved from

Uncommon Schools. (n.d.). Uncommon Schools board. Retrieved from

Zach Blattner. (n.d.). LinkedIn [Profile page]. Retrieved from

Zearn. (n.d.). Team. Retrieved from

Also see:

Micro-Credentials for Fun and Profit (In which Relay certifies your hand)
Curmudgucation – March 18, 2016

The Response to Relay taking over Colorado? Silence!
Bust•Ed Pencils May 13, 2016

A Discussion of Relay Graduate School of Education
War Report on Public Education – May 22, 2016